Healed of Christmases Past–the cure is in plain view

Here is my December column for the Catholic Free Press.

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It’s here. The Christmas season. How does this make you feel?

Is it excitement as in days of old when you were a child?

Or, is it long to-do lists that never end? Shopping till we drop? Noise and chaos and endless obligations that make us tired and cranky while all the while we are told to be “merry?”

Is it dread, trying to stretch limited financial resources to fulfill gift obligations? Is it regret, frustration and guilt that we cannot buy what we wish for our loved ones?

Is it loneliness? Are we missing someone, loved ones who have died or moved away? Do we feel empty, sad or bitter?

Miguel Fraga, Flickr Creative Commons
Miguel Fraga, Flickr Creative Commons

The Christmas season evokes powerful memories and emotions, magnifying every joy as well as all the hurt, disappointment and loss we have experienced in our lives. Our reaction to any unattended and festering wounds will be visited upon everyone around us, especially those we love.

Tucked away in the midst of all this is a liturgical season often overlooked: Advent. It is the antithesis of a chaotic, noisy commercial Christmas; a soothing and sanguine contrast to a season clouded by wounds and losses. Advent does not look mournfully to the past; it draws our attention to a hopeful future while being firmly rooted in the here and now.

Jorbasa Fotografie 4. Advent 2011, Flickr Creative Commons
Jorbasa Fotografie 4. Advent 2011, Flickr Creative Commons

Advent features the key players of our faith: Mary, Joseph and of course, Jesus Christ. It features some of the most moving and poetic passages from the Bible–prophesies of old heralding the coming of the Messiah as the shoot of Jesse, filled with the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and of strength, knowledge and fear of the Lord (from Isaiah 11).

Barta IV Jesus Joseph Mary, Flickr Creative Commons
Barta IV Jesus Joseph Mary, Flickr Creative Commons

It documents the greatest act of obedience in history when a young virgin accepts the invitation from God to bear his Son. That obedience is not an onerous “do not” but a joyful “I do!” as evidenced by Mary’s rushing to the side of her kinswoman Elizabeth (thought barren yet pregnant) and spontaneously praising God with her and the babes in their wombs in the exquisite prayer of the Magnificat.

It illustrates sublime acts of trust, surrender, generosity and courage in Joseph who fully embraces the responsibility of taking Mary to be his wife despite the fact that she is carrying a child not his own. Going against the grain of longstanding tradition and enduring the naysayers, he knows there is a bigger picture to consider: Mary’s child is God’s Son. And he makes room for them.

So how does all of this help to sooth frazzled nerves, heal the wounds of Christmases past and fill empty and grieving hearts?

I can’t say how specifically. I only know that each year as I focus on Advent and turn away from a commercial Christmas, I have felt that soothing, that healing. My empty heart is filled.

I still grieve for loved ones. I still struggle with squeezing out the last dollar. I still battle with a heart that is small (although it is growing). I only know that the other day when I went to the Christmas Tree shop to finish off a gift basket for church, I felt serene, even enjoying the experience. To me, the Christmas Tree shop is the quintessential representation of a frazzled, noisy, chaotic commercial Christmas. And yet I felt deep contentment.

It’s the fruit of Advents past, reflecting on the readings, listening to the music, and looking to Mary and Joseph as the examples. Philippians 4:8 sums it up perfectly: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” (NIV)

Immersion into the refuge of Advent has healed my Christmas.

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Diving deep into River of Grace with Elizabeth Reardon, host of “An Engaging Faith”

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In this in-depth hour-long interview: we dive deep into River of Grace – gratitude in the midst of difficult times – obedience as a joyful “yes” to new adventures, new life after loss and restoring the joy of living, life metaphors for grace … Also, a quick sneak peak at Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message! Elizabeth Reardon really did her homework! Check it out.

Visit An Engaging Faith on Facebook.

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Find Susan’s books here on AmazonPurchase Susan’s CD.

Life restored after a season of loss: “River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times” in word and song

This past Wednesday was a BIG day. This arrived in the mail …

river of grace books-640

cover front only for webBut that was not all. I also got the final mix of my soundtrack CD for River of Grace from the producer. And I have to say he really outdid himself. I sent him a text back with 7 hearts – one for each song!

It was one of those rare, extraordinary days that sends you into orbit and you just want to cling to that feeling forever. I will write about it in my journal so I can go back and bathe in that grace, that pure gift from God whenever discouragement knocks on my door.

Now, I would like to share what God gave to me with you.

00 cover drop shadowRiver of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times is a spiritual memoir that reveals how several major losses helped me rediscover creativity and faith. Published by Ave Maria Press, it is described as “Filled with powerful insights on the presence and action of grace–in the Mass and the sacraments, nature and grief, and even through the life and works of Louisa May Alcott–River of Grace guides readers in strengthening their faith, discovering their own hidden gifts and restoring a joy in living during and after tough times.” It contains lots of practical spiritual exercises called Flow Lessons that lead you there. (Some of the Flow Lessons are on this site–check them out here.)

Losing a part of yourself

One of the losses I experienced was that of my singing voice. Yet throughout the writing of River of Grace, I kept thinking of songs that would fit with each chapter. While writing the third chapter on the loss of my voice, I experienced a miraculous healing after receiving a throat blessing on the Feast of St. Blaise.

This song was playing in my head; here’s a passage from chapter 3 on why:

How Can I Keep from Singing • Traditional Quaker hymn
“Instead of being raw and fragmented, I began to feel whole. A sense of wonder and deep gratitude welled up inside. The following Sunday as I entered the church to go to Mass I was immediately struck with the knowledge that I had received a significant healing with that throat blessing. I couldn’t wait to tell the priest.
Thereafter during Mass I noticed that it became easier to sing the hymns. Buoyed, I pushed my voice a bit further each week. One day while driving home after Mass I sang some of the most challenging songs in my repertoire including “I Know That My
Redeemer Liveth” from Handel’s Messiah and discovered to my delight that I could sing them just as I had before. My voice had been restored. I had received a physical healing along with the emotional and spiritual.” (from chapter 3, River of Grace)

New life after loss

River of Grace is also about new life. In the writing I learned that creativity is far more than being able to sing, dance, paint or write. Creativity is all about intention. As the Lord led me on my journey towards a new creativity in my life, I thought of Psalm 103, traditionally read during the Easter season, and this song:

Lord, Send Out Your Spirit (from Psalm 103) • Words and music by Susan Bailey ©2001 Susan W. Bailey
“If you recognize and accept the presence within of God’s Spirit, you will live a creative life. Since God is limitless, the possibilities of creativity are limitless too. You only need to believe it and take your own deep dive to discover the authentic person within, the one created in the image and likeness of God, the person you are meant to be. Nothing is too small or too insignificant. Nothing is too foolish or crazy. No effort is wasted. God has placed the capability in every person to be “great” even if that greatness is quiet, unassuming, and shared within a small circle. … Broken as we are, we can be made new, made whole though likely we will never be the same again … By being immersed in the river of grace, we can go on the adventure of a lifetime.” (chapter 5, River of Grace)

Working through fear

River of Grace is also about overcoming fear; stepping out and seeing life as a glorious adventure. Seeing obedience to God’s will as a series of wonderful “yeses” rather than onerous no’s.

This song came to mind:

Touch the Sky • Words and music by Susan Bailey ©1998 Susan W. Bailey
“I saw yet again that working through my fear was necessary in order to find and then be my authentic self. I could be like Gloria: passionate, confident, joyful, and enthusiastic, affecting those around me as a result. By believing in God’s love for me I could then become his emissary. I didn’t have to travel to Haiti; I only had to travel within to discover where the river of grace was leading me, and then commit to the journey. I had to get used to living with the uncertainty that is the fundamental part of self-discovery. It required being alert and awake to that quiet voice of God inside of me, his gentle hand nudging me this way and that. It gave new meaning to the scripture to “Beware, keep alert” (Mk 13:33). We must be alert and awake at all times to God’s call. This is what it means to be truly present to each and every moment. And if we pay heed to such moments, we won’t have the time to worry about the future or regret the past.” (from chapter 6, River of Grace)

So that’s the big reveal! This project has been my life for the last two years and a lot of the transformation I write about happened as I was writing the book. Gotta love the immediacy of the Holy Spirit at work.

Ave Maria Press is everything everyone said it would be. Totally professional, really helpful, and daring, taking chances on newbies like myself. I am so honored to have a book published by them.

You can order River of Grace (the book) through Ave Maria Press and Amazon. Don’t forget to write a review after you’ve read it!

The CD will be available by the end of October; I’ll let you know when it’s ready.

Fundraiser almost over; still need your help

I hope you are enjoying these clips from the new CD. With the deadline of October 15 looming just around the corner, I still need much help in meeting the goal of raising $1600 to pay for the making of the CD. You can donate at http://igg.me/at/susanbailey. Every dollar counts. If you can only give $5 or $10, I will be so grateful. And for those who can give more, I am offering some rewards which I think you’ll appreciate.

00 twitter profile 400x400both books river firstJoin my Email List (special surprises just for you!)
to subscribe to this blog.
Keep up with news and free giveaways regarding Susan’s new books, River of Grace
and Louisa May Alcott: Iluminated by The Message!
Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read Susan’s blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion